A four-year-old lawsuit brought by against the town government over the club's tax assessment has been settled, with Woodway getting a lower assessment and the town getting some legal tools to keep the land as open space for decades.
Under the settlement, signed by club President John Considine on Feb. 9 and approved by the Board of Selectmen on Monday, the club's tax assessment is reduced by $1.9 million, to $22,233,610, retroactive to 2008. (The attached documents provide full details of the settlement.)
Under the current tax rate of $12.20 per $1,000 of assessed value, the town would lose about $23,700 in tax revenue this year and somewhat less in the each of the previous four years.
The town has also agreed, in perpetuity, not to assess the 129 acres within Darien used for the golf course as land which could be sold and developed as housing. Instead, the land will be considered open space, keeping the club's tax bills down.
Woodway also owns six more acres of land in town, used for its clubhouse and other club purposes, and the club owns some land over the border in Stamford, as well. None of that other land is part of the agreement with the town.
What the agreement gives the town
In return for those concessions by the town, Woodway has agreed to give the town first right of refusal if the country club ever wants to sell all or part of those 129 acres. That right would last 40 years.
The club also agreed to continue using the land as a golf course or otherwise use it as open space for the next 30 years.
If Woodway were to ever merge with another country club or otherwise reorganize itself, the agreement remains in effect and the land must be preserved as open space.
The settlement is the third of three similar agreements the town has made with the golf clubs in Darien. In January 2011, and the reached that lowered their tax assessments by much larger amounts than Woodway. All three clubs had disputed their assessments after the 2008 revaluation.
also has sued the town regarding its tax assessment.
In the 2008 revaluation, the town assessed golf course land in a way consistent with the idea that the clubs might sell all or parts of it for residential development, which made the assessments higher than for open space not subject to development.
According to Fox, the country clubs alleged that the town had previously assessed their golf course land as open space. Fox said the town disputed that.
Darien did assess the golf courses at a higher value than "many other communities," Fox said.
The Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 on Monday to accept the settlement negotiated by Town Attorney Wayne Fox. Only Selectman David Bayne voted against the settlement.
Bayne said that by valuating the course as open space in perpetuity, as long as it is used as a golf course, "ties the hands of the town" in future revaluations.
Only Bayne described his reasons for his vote during the Board of Selectmen's meeting.
Asked after the meeting why she voted to approve the settlement, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she believed the settlement was in the town's best interest, in part because "we have appraisal evidence that supports a different valuation [than the town had given the country club in 2008], and based on the country club's appeal, we have analyzed the entire body of information that was provided."
Stevenson also said she voted to approve it based on written reports from Fox and Town Assessor Anthony Homicki which recommended approval. She referred all further questions about the advantages of the settlement to Fox and Homicki. Fox said he had not given the Board of Selectmen written reports, although he had sent them the settlement documents (which are attached to this article).
Fox said he recommended approval because it's important for the town, which is small in size and has little undeveloped space, to maintain the open space it has left.
"Any time you can keep land open, as opposed to it being chopped up and developed into single residences, it is important to the town," Fox said. The loss of open space would reduce opportunities for recreation, either as a private club with Darien members or, potentially in the future, as land owned by the town for use by the public, he said.
In the 1960s, the Longshore Club in Westport closed, and that town bought the land as . Longshore is still used today for , , , and, in the former clubhouse, a hotel and .
Fox said there was no guarantee, if the case went to trial, that the town would win it, and even if it won, a state judge was not likely to give the town the same deed restrictions and right of first refusal that the settlement provided.